I’ve finally come up with a good definition for the Lizard People:
People who prioritize order above human utility–including their own.
It’s easy to understand why people harm others if they benefit personally in the process. We might not like it, but at least we understand it, and self-interested people can be reasoned with.
Lizard people look like people, but they seem to lack the ability to reason like people. They make other people’s lives worse, but for no discernible personal benefit. They use words like “progress” or “improvement,” “rational” or “modern,” “rules” or “policies,” to justify their policies, while ignoring complaints from the people involved that the new policies actually break more than they fix.
Or to put it another way: lizard people are the folks who thought Cabrini Green looked nice and built it that way on purpose.
After all, housing projects don’t simply appear out of thin air. Hundreds if not thousands of people were substantially involved in the process of creating some of the ugliest monuments to poverty the nation has ever bulldozed.
And as Slate Star Codex recently discussed in his review of James Scott’s Seeing Like a State, this didn’t happen by accident or because ugly buildings were somehow cheaper than regular ones. It happened because there was a whole school of thought, the Modernists, who thought it would be grand to redesign whole cities to be “modern” and “rational”. As Scott Alexander notes:
The worst of the worst was Le Corbusier, the French artist/intellectual/architect. The Soviets asked him to come up with a plan to redesign Moscow. He came up with one: kick out everyone, bulldoze the entire city, and redesign it from scratch upon rational principles….
The Soviets decided to pass: the plan was too extreme and destructive of existing institutions even for Stalin. Undeterred, Le Corbusier changed the word “Moscow” on the diagram to “Paris”, then presented it to the French government (who also passed). Some aspects of his design eventually ended up as Chandigarh, India. …
the Modernists rarely got their hands on entire cities at once. They did build a number of suburbs, neighborhoods, and apartment buildings. There was, however, a disconnect. Most people did not want to buy a High Modernist house or live in a High Modernist neighborhood. Most governments did want to fund High Modernist houses and neighborhoods, because the academics influencing them said it was the modern scientific rational thing to do. So in the end, one of High Modernists’ main contributions to the United States was the projects – ie government-funded public housing for poor people who didn’t get to choose where to live.
I recommend Alexander’s entire post, because by the end you will have a much better idea of what I mean by “Lizard People” than I can possibly explain myself.
Or to give a much more mundane, local example:
After a couple of the local teenagers got drivers’ licenses and a large family moved in down the block, our neighborhood developed a parking problem: more cars than spaces. Residents complained, so the HOA handed down a ruling: no one can park in the spare spaces. Problem solved!
My personal experience with HOAs is that they are run by lizard people, overly concerned with having a “rule” and a “policy” for everything, and rarely with actually maximizing the property values of the HOAs members.
It’s kind of odd that people don’t discuss HOAs more often, because they’re a level of government that millions of people are exposed to, voting is restricted to property owners, and they’re small enough that individuals could have an effect on them.
To be clear, it’s not that order is itself inherently bad. For example, Alexander posted a map of Chicago (laid out in a grid) next to a map of a traditional, twisty-windy-street city. But Chicago’s sewers are a true engineering marvel:
During the 1850s and 1860s engineers carried out a piecemeal raising of the level of central Chicago. Streets, sidewalks and buildings were physically raised on hydraulic jacks or jackscrews. The work was funded by private property owners and public funds. …
During the 19th century, the elevation of the Chicago area was not much higher than the shorelines of Lake Michigan, so for many years there was little or no naturally occurring drainage from the city surface. The lack of drainage caused unpleasant living conditions, and standing water harbored pathogens that caused numerous epidemics. Epidemics including typhoid fever and dysentery blighted Chicago six years in a row culminating in the 1854 outbreak of cholera that killed six percent of the city’s population. …
In January 1858, the first masonry building in Chicago to be thus raised—a four story, 70-foot (21 m) long, 750-ton brick structure situated at the north-east corner of Randolph Street and Dearborn Street—was lifted on two hundred jackscrews to its new grade, which was 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) higher than the old one, “without the slightest injury to the building.” It was the first of more than fifty comparably large masonry buildings to be raised that year. …
By 1860, confidence was sufficiently high that a consortium … took on one of the most impressive locations in the city and hoisted it up complete and in one go. They lifted half a city block on Lake Street, between Clark Street and LaSalle Street; a solid masonry row of shops, offices, printeries, etc., 320 feet (98 m) long, comprising brick and stone buildings, some four stories high, some five, having a footprint taking up almost one acre (4,000 m2) of space, and an estimated all in weight including hanging sidewalks of thirty five thousand tons. Businesses operating out of these premises were not closed down for the lifting; as the buildings were being raised, people came, went, shopped and worked in them as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. In five days the entire assembly was elevated 4 feet 8 inches (1.42 m) in the air by a team consisting of six hundred men using six thousand jackscrews, ready for new foundation walls to be built underneath. The spectacle drew crowds of thousands, who were on the final day permitted to walk at the old ground level, among the jacks. …
Many of central Chicago’s hurriedly erected wooden frame buildings were now considered wholly inappropriate to the burgeoning and increasingly wealthy city. Rather than raise them several feet, proprietors often preferred to relocate these old frame buildings, replacing them with new masonry blocks built to the latest grade. Consequently, the practice of putting the old multi-story, intact and furnished wooden buildings—sometimes entire rows of them en bloc—on rollers and moving them to the outskirts of town or to the suburbs was so common as to be considered nothing more than routine traffic. Traveller David Macrae wrote incredulously, “Never a day passed during my stay in the city that I did not meet one or more houses shifting their quarters. One day I met nine. Going out Great Madison Street in the horse cars we had to stop twice to let houses get across.” As discussed above, business did not suffer; shop owners would keep their shops open, even as people had to climb in through a moving front door.
In other words, Chicago was too low and flat to drain properly, (which probably has a lot to do with it being laid out so neatly in the first place,) much less build underground sewers, and as a result, people kept getting sick. So they just used a bunch of jacks to lift the city and built the sewers at ground level, then filled in the open space with dirt and rubble.
So, yes, I am in favor of sewers, and even major, city-altering projects in order to install sewers. Sewers are good. Not dying of cholera is awesome. Nothing here should be interpreted as “let’s go die of terrible, preventable diseases in a muddy peasant hovel.”
But too often the imposition of order doesn’t prevent cholera; too often it just makes everything worse. “I have a solution!” doesn’t mean you have a good solution.
The biggest projects ever undertaken to improve human welfare, organized entirely along scientific, “rational” principles, resulted in the deaths of over 35 million people. No one is sure exactly how many people starved to death in the process of collectivization–Wikipedia lists estimates between 5.5 and 8 million for the Soviet famine of 1932-33, 23-55 million for China’s Great Leap Forward, and goodness knows how many we should count for North Korea, Cambodia, Ethiopia, etc.
It’s one thing to raise a city, one block at a time, on hydraulic jacks. It’s quite another matter to redesign an society from the ground up. Even if people’s current systems aren’t functioning perfectly, like the parking situation in my my neighborhood, systems tend to exist as they are because they are serving some purpose and you can’t just step in and sweep them aside without understanding what that purpose was. Moreover, whatever imperfect system you have, people are used to it and most of them have already adapted their lives around it. Before the French Revolution, there were thousands of people who made their livings producing lace, candles, and other luxury goods for the French Nobility. Chop off the king’s head, and some poor hatter will be out of a job.
Or as they say, if you come across a fence in the woods that doesn’t have any obvious purpose, it’s a good idea to figure out why it’s there before you go tearing it down.
But back to the Lizard People: the Lizard People are folks who, as everyone around them is transformed into skeletal corpses, keep insisting that everything is fine and we just need to stick with the plan–maybe even stick to the plan even harder.
And the strangest thing is that these people exist at all, and moreover, that instead of being shunned by society at large, they are often promoted–to manager, overseer, or government office.
I. In Educating Teachers: Harvard gets serious about training its graduates to teach in the classroom, Sophia Nguyen writes:
This is something that’s interesting about HTF,” Quan Le ’15 said. “We literally cry every day.” …
Note: Quan Le is male.
Sometimes the crying became infectious. On one morning in early June, the fellows sat in a basement classroom for their daily “teaching lab,” where they studied and rehearsed classroom management strategies that they could try out on the high-schoolers later that day. They broke up into two discussion groups, and, while debating last night’s reading on cultural sensitivity, one-half of the room broke down. Voices rose: I just want to push back a little on what you said. I think this is very problematic. I’d like to ask you to unpack this point. I don’t think that’s the culture of low-income people—I think that’s a deficit-based model. The fellows, freshly graduated from the College, were fluent in left-leaning liberal-arts classroom etiquette. Yet the conversation grew tenser, then tearful, even as everyone insisted they had no real conflict. Someone burst out, frustrated, “I agree with you!”
“It’s not like class,” one of them said, finally, face in hands. “It really matters to me. I feel really attacked. I care so much about this stuff, and when the whole group disagrees with me, I can’t take it.”
Noah Heller, HTF’s master teacher-in-residence for math, interceded gently. “We need to work on tuning together. I don’t hear people disagreeing with you, I really don’t. We’re having a robust discussion.”
“It’s so exhausting. I’m so sorry, I cry all the time.” The fellow took a breath. “I’m getting really defensive. I think we all really need to remember that we’re all here to help kids.” At some point, everyone in the circle of chairs had begun holding hands. “There’s not always agreeing or disagreeing,” someone offered helpfully. “Sometimes it’s just—this stuff is really hard, and we’re just trying to figure out what we feel.”
The students in this article are not recruits going through Basic Training in the military. They are not doctors enduring 48 hour hospital shifts. They are Harvard grads learning to be teachers. I have a great deal of respect for teachers and know they work hard, but there is absolutely no reason they should be weeping every day.
Seriously, if anything in this excerpt sounds like your real life, please get help immediately. THIS IS NOT EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY OR NORMAL.
II. One of the things I appreciate about memetics is that it allows us to think about the spread and propagation of ideas independent of the intentions of the people who hold them. Or as Wikipedia puts it:
The meme, analogous to a gene, was conceived as a “unit of culture” (an idea, belief, pattern of behaviour, etc.) which is “hosted” in the minds of one or more individuals, and which can reproduce itself, thereby jumping from mind to mind. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen as an idea-replicator reproducing itself in a new host. As with genetics, particularly under a Dawkinsian interpretation, a meme’s success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of its host.
Memetics is also notable for sidestepping the traditional concern with the truth of ideas and beliefs. Instead, it is interested in their success.
In other words, “memes” (ideas) act like viruses or, as I wrote previously, “mitochondria.” (Note: unlike real viruses, most ideas you believe are probably beneficial.)
We like to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings who believe things because we’ve concluded that they make sense, but taking the example of religion, the idea that millions of people in North Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, etc., have all independently and logically decided that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet, every generation, for over a thousand years–and people in Europe have decided similarly that God is a Trinity, became man, and was sacrificed for your sins; people in India have believed that your soul can be reincarnated; and people in Central America once decided that the most logical thing was to rip people’s still-beating hearts out of their chests in order to keep the sun in the sky (I mean, sure, maybe the world won’t end even if we don’t sacrifice 400 virgins, but do you really want to take the chance?)–defies logic.
If we can look at religions as memeplexes–networks of interrelated ideas–that exist over time independent of the particular people who believe in them, we can similarly interrogate political ideologies. Like your religious beliefs (or non-belief,) your professed political ideology likely has a good deal to do with factors entirely outside of “logical thought,” like genetics, social class, or the region of the country you live in (otherwise it is strangely coincidental that the Deep South has been “conservative” relative to the rest of the country for hundreds of years.)
As we discussed in the previous Cathedral Round Up, You are the Hope of the World, what we see as “modern” Progressivism existed back in 1917. 1917 is not some special year–Progressivism actually began long before then, but we’re not tracing the idea’s history; you can get your fix of that from Moldbug.
Moldbug (and many others,) also suggests that Progressivism is really a religion, just stripped of the explicit references to God. Whether or not this is literally true, from a memetics perspective, both religions and political ideologies function similarly. As Jonas Kaplan states:
Perhaps this is due to some underlying aspect of human cognition or social structure, or perhaps successful memes all share certain features that enhance their spread and temporal persistence. Either way, we can productively use the same vocabulary and concepts to discuss both.
III. Most people recognize that cults exist and that cults are bad, but few people who are actually in cults believe that they are in a cult. As Boze Herrington notes in The Atlantic, The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult:
For three weeks, Hannah and I had been trying to contact leaders at [International House of Prayer; no relation to the restaurant] about a prayer group that we, Bethany, and many of our friends had been part of—a small, independent community that drew on IHOP’s teachings. In February, I had been formally excommunicated, and Hannah had left in June. Looking in from the outside, both of us saw the group differently than we had when we were part of it: We saw it as a cult.
Several years ago, the founder of IHOP, Mike Bickle, created a list of seven ways to recognize the difference between a religious community and a cult. Written down, the signs seem clear:
1. Opposing critical thinking
2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving
3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture
4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders
5. Dishonoring the family unit
6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership)
7. Separation from the Church
But when it’s your friends, your faith, your community, it’s not so obvious. For several years, roughly two dozen people, all younger than thirty, had been living together in Kansas City, Missouri, and following the leadership of Tyler Deaton, one of our classmates from Southwestern University in Texas. In the summer of 2012, Tyler had married Bethany; by the fall, she was dead. What started as a dorm-room prayer group had devolved into something much darker.
You can find many different definitions of “cult” out there; obviously “Crossing Biblical boundaries,” does not apply so much to political ideologies.
Personally, I’d say that among the critical defining characteristics of cults:
Cults teach people that their self-worth (the salvation of their souls, their essential goodness, etc.,) is dependent on adherence to the cult’s teachings
They use of social ostracism to punish even slight deviation from a very rigid set of beliefs.
They isolate their members from everyone outside the cult.
People who have been convinced to cut off contact with friends and family end up far more vulnerable to ostracism by the cult because they now have nowhere left to go nor anyone to help them if they leave.
Note, though, that there is no particular thing cultists need to believe, besides in the absoluteness of the cult. Memetically speaking, cults typically do not generate their own ideologies, but rather are metastisized versions of regular ones. Cults work, in part, because the people in them already believe in the importance of the basic ideas the cults are based on–there wouldn’t be much point in joining a cult you didn’t believe in.
Christian cults therefore draw in people who already believe in Christianity; New-Agey cults draw in people who believe in New-Agey sorts of things; Islamic cults draw in people who believe in Islam. This pre-existing belief primes people to believe the cult’s message, and also makes it hard to distinguish between the cult and regular, non-cultish believers of the same memeplex. The cult essentially hides behind the legitimacy of regular believers while simultaneously attacking them for being insufficiently rigorous in their beliefs.
Let’s take Marie Shear’s oft-repeated adage, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
Pretty much everyone agrees that women are people. I wager that even under the most female-oppressive regimes on Earth, the vast majority of people agree that women are “people,” not unicorns, glorified fungi, or inanimate objects. Talk to someone from Saudi Arabia, and they’ll tell you that their country is great for women, because they protect women from rape and sexual objectification.
(I have actually read an academic article arguing that female genital mutilation can be seen as pro-women in certain contexts.)
The quote’s appeal is two-fold: first, it implies that “feminism” is a mainstream belief because everyone who believes that women are people are feminists, and second, it implies that anyone who doesn’t identify as a feminist doesn’t believe that women are people. All sensible, right-thinking people, therefore, are clearly feminists–and feminists are sensible, right-thinking people.
In reality, though, we know that this is not a useful definition of feminism.
Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex has helped popularize Nicholas Shackel’s phrase “Motte and Bailey doctrine” to refer to the practice of using an easily defended but not very useful (to the feminist) rhetorical position, eg, “Women are people” to protect a large swathe of much harder to defend but more useful positions, like “abortion should always be legal,” or “college campuses aren’t doing enough to prosecute rape.”
A motte-and-bailey is a kind of Medieval fortress in which an earthenwork tower (the motte) is used to defend a large field with a wall around it. The field is difficult to defend, but a good place for farming; the hill is easy to defend, but bad for farming.
Cults use this same technique to portray their beliefs as reasonable–things all good members of members of Group X believe, and aren’t you a good member of Group X?–while hiding their unreasonable beliefs and the harm they do to their members.
IV. You have probably already figured out that I think modern Social Justice Warrior ideology is effectively a cult.
Now, there are some folks around these parts who see any liberalism as dangerous or inevitably leading in a bad direction. I tend to see both “liberalism” and “conservatism” personality types, heavily influenced by genetics, independent of the particular politics of the day. A functional society benefits from the strengths of both types, so long as everyone is behaving themselves and not behaving like cult members out to crush any and all deviation from their particular version of the One True Truth.
I check Feministing, and even radfem blogs like “I Blame the Patriarchy.” And yes, I’ve read many studies and task force reports about gender bias, and about the “privilege” and “entitlement” of the nerdy males that’s keeping women away from science. …
I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year. …
I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. … I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with “microaggressions,” and how even the most “enlightened” males—especially the most “enlightened” males, in fact—are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.
Because of my fears—my fears of being “outed” as a nerdy heterosexual male, and therefore as a potential creep or sex criminal—I had constant suicidal thoughts. …
At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs that would chemically castrate me (I had researched which ones), because a life of mathematical asceticism was the only future that I could imagine for myself. The psychiatrist refused…
To repeat my comment from the beginning of this post, if anything in this excerpt sounds like your real life, please get help immediately. THIS IS NOT EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY OR NORMAL.
People who are not familiar with modern feminism (this includes many of my liberal friends, who are too busy with jobs, kids, friends, etc., to keep up with the Outrage du Jour,) might feel tempted to write off Aaronson’s experience as just one weird guy’s absurd, abnormal reaction–surely normal people don’t become suicidal or try to castrate themselves after reading about microaggressions. After all, feminism is just the idea that women are people, right? Surely feminists, being reasonable people, reacted to Aaronson with the explanations he’d been looking for (or at least links to them) and some compassion for his suicidal state.
Alexander quotes famous feminist Amanda Marcotte’s response:
[Aaronson’s post] is the whole “how can men be oppressed when I don’t get to have sex with all the hot women that I want without having to work for it?” whine, one that, amongst other things, starts on the assumption that women do not suffer things like social anxiety or rejection…It was just a yalp of entitlement combined with an aggressive unwillingness to accept that women are human beings just like men. [He is saying that] “having to explain my suffering to women when they should already be there, mopping my brow and offering me beers and blow jobs, is so tiresome…I was too busy JAQ-ing off, throwing tantrums, and making sure the chip on my shoulder was felt by everyone in the room to be bothered to do something like listen.” Women are failing him by not showing up naked in his bed, unbidden. Because bitches, yo.
The eternal struggle of the sexist: Objective reality suggests that women are people, but the heart wants to believe they are a robot army put here for sexual service and housework.
Alexander notes, “Anyway, Marcotte was bad enough, given that she runs one of the most-read feminist blogs on the Internet. But much of the rest of the feminist “discussion” on Tumblr, Twitter, and the like was if anything even worse,” then discusses an article by Laurie Penny in New Statesman, called “On Nerd Entitlement: White Male Nerds Need To Recognize That Other People Had Traumatic Upbringings Too And That’s Different From Structural Oppression”:
Feminism is not to blame for making life hell for “shy, nerdy men”. It is a real shame that Aaronson picked up Andrea Dworkin rather than any of the many feminist theorists and writers who manage to combine raw rage with refusal to resort to sexual shame as an instructive tool. Weaponised shame – male, female or other – has no place in any feminism I subscribe to.
I live in a world where feminists throwing weaponized shame at nerds is an obvious and inescapable part of daily life. Whether we’re “mouth-breathers”, “pimpled”, “scrawny”, “blubbery”, “sperglord”, “neckbeard”, “virgins”, “living in our parents’ basements”, “man-children” or whatever the insult du jour is, it’s always, always, ALWAYS a self-identified feminist saying it. Sometimes they say it obliquely, referring to a subgroup like “bronies” or “atheists” or “fedoras” while making sure everyone else in nerddom knows it’s about them too. …
But it’s not just that. Try to look up something on Iron Man, and you get an article on Iron Man-Child and how “the white maleness of geek culture” proves they are “the most useless and deficient individuals in society, precisely because they have such a delusional sense of their own importance and entitlements.”…
Let’s recap, because this has gotten a little long. Aaronson states that he is “97%” on board with feminism, and explains that his 3% reservation is due to feminism making him feel suicidal for the sin of finding women attractive. Feminists respond with incredible cruelty. One feminist claims that in her universe, feminists aren’t cruel. Alexander responds, with evidence, that feminists are constantly cruel, at least toward people like him and Aaronson.
Ms. Penny, I’m pretty sure gaslighting and lying are also signs of being in a cult.
Just how bad is the left? And are they actually any worse than the right? Perhaps both sides just have their bad apples…
And let’s not forget the recent violent riots at Berkley, which according to CNN caused $100,000 in damages, (mostly to innocent nearby businesses like refugee-supporting Starbucks,) nor the recent incident at Middlebury, in which a mob of students attempted to shut down a speech by Charles Murray and violently assaulted a professor, who ended up in the hospital:
The more exclusive the university, the richer and more liberal the students. The less exclusive, the poorer and more conservative. Ironically, it’s these elite students (who benefit most from “privilege”) who are violently opposing speakers in the name of “equality,” not conservatives at little podunk-Us.
(In other words, folks like Amanda Marcotte and the instigators of online Twitter mobs are probably sociopaths. The internet has created an environment where sociopathic behavior can thrive under the guise of “morally courageous action”)
So, to answer our question… No.
V. Here’s some more cultish material from the SJWs:
“Everybody to the right of us is literally Hitler.”
Dozens of media outlets all using the exact same language:
Meanwhile, one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country would like you to know that Super Mario Run is sexist and bad for children.
Yeah, there’s nothing at all creepy or harmful about preventing your children from consuming completely innocuous children’s media, cutting them off from the common cultural knowledge of their peer group.
Oh, and by the way, 1985 wasn’t some Dark Age of sexism–we are talking about the era of Great Britain’s first female Prime Minister, after all.
Meanwhile, from the “bodypositivists,” “we don’t understand how attraction works”:
Meanwhile, Ivy League University Penn is apparently a hotbed of racism:
And for students whose professors are insufficiently racist, SJWs have put together a handy guide to making family gatherings as unplesant as possible:
VI. Let’s have some conclusions.
Regardless of what you think of leftists in general–and I know many leftists who are basically good-hearted, well-intentioned people–the extreme left, born of academia and particularly active on the internet, works like a cult.
This is a difficult position to explain to someone who has not experienced it personally, or seen a loved one affected by it. During the long process by which this blog came to exist, I struggled to reconcile my own morality–my sense of myself as a “good person”–with the statistical data I was reading. How could a good person believe in statistical differences between groups in criminal offending rates, or measured IQ scores? Did merely believing such a thing make me a bad person?
I tended to keep such ideas to myself; far more innocuous statements in conversation with friends and acquaintances were often responded to with anger, threats, or explicit shunning. I lost most of my college-friends due to shunning, and I’ve had it far better than some.
Since abandoning my identity as a leftist, I’ve also abandoned the idea that my morality is based in believing the correct things. If tomorrow I discovered that there are no group-level differences in IQ or criminal behavior, this would change nothing about how I see myself. (In fact, I’d be perfectly pleased by such a discovery.) Rather, I see my morality in how I treat those around me–family, friends, random strangers I meet in everyday life.
When ideas spread because they are true or useful, they make life better. The Germ Theory of Disease has saved billions of lives. Belief in Santa Claus makes children happy, even if he isn’t real.
But sometimes ideas spread even though they fundamentally lack utility. The classic example of this is the chain letter, which people spread because it tells them to, even though it contains nothing of worth. The modern version of the chain letter are Facebook Memes that say things like, “99% of people don’t love Jesus enough to repost this meme” or “If you really love your relative with cancer, you’ll repost this meme,” or “90% of people can’t answer this simple math problem!” It’s easy to see how #activism slides into pure meme re-posting.
These sorts of memes are annoying but fairly harmless. It’s when memes mutate into ideologies that judge the essential goodness of their believers on their willingness to devote their lives to spreading the meme that they become dangerous. You end up with purity spirals that end in martyrdom–self-sacrifice for the spread of the meme. The spread of such ideas through society can be see, quite reasonably, as cancerous.
Easy Nofemela remembers the evening Amy Biehl died. … a mob of angry young men was looking for symbols of white rule to destroy.
Then the men spotted Biehl, blond and blue-eyed, as she drove through the township in her yellow Mazda.
“Rocks were being thrown at Amy’s car. She got out and ran, and she was stabbed right over there,” Nofemela says, pointing to a patch of grass next to a service station, now planted with a small cross.
Nofemela remembers, 15 years later, because he was part of the mob that killed Amy Biehl.
What he didn’t know then was that Biehl was hardly a symbol of apartheid. She was a Fulbright scholar studying the lives of women in South Africa, a 26-year-old Stanford graduate with a plane ticket for home the next day, from an airport 10 minutes away. …
Today, Nofemela, a compact 37-year-old with a shaved head and a quick wit, is the father of a young girl. And, in an improbable tale of forgiveness and redemption, he and Ntobeko Peni, another of the men convicted of the murder, now work for the charity Biehl’s parents founded here after she was killed. …
An engaging woman of 65 with a blond bob and a warm smile, she has grown exceptionally close to her daughter’s killers. “Easy and Ntobeko are fascinating and I really do love them,” she says. “They have given me so much.”
Linda Biehl and her late husband, Peter, launched the Amy Biehl Foundation in 1994 with donations that arrived, unsolicited, from strangers moved by the news of their daughter’s death. Today, it runs after-school programs for youngsters in Guguletu and other townships and squatter camps that took root during the apartheid era on the Cape flats, about 10 miles east of Cape Town.
Guys, if anyone ever murders me, I encourage you to murder them back.
As I mentioned yesterday, among many important things, Scott’s post on Cost Disease explains (IMO) the rise of the Alt-Right (VERY broadly defined) and Trump’s victory in a way that I don’t think any mainstream publication can. (Not explicitly, mind.)
“Cost disease” is Scott’s (and others’) term for “things getting more expensive without any increase in quality or quantity.”
Over the past 40 years or so, some of the most expensive–and important–things in life like housing, education, health care, and infrastructure have doubled, tripled, or dectupled in price with very little improvement to show for it (except maybe in healthcare, where we are in fact living longer.)
Getting less bang for your buck is downright frustrating.
Now let’s suppose you’re an American conservative of some stripe. Maybe you think abortion is immoral. It’s been about 40 years since Roe V. Wade, and abortion is still legal. Maybe you’re opposed to gay marriage. Sorry, that horse has left the closet. Did you hope to bring democracy and freedom to the people of Iraq? Yeah… Good luck with that.
Maybe you’d just like to live in a community full of people who share your religious beliefs and cultural norms, like the average person actually did back in 1950 and before. Well, demographics have not been on your side for a long time–not only have whites gone from about 88% of the country to <50% of babies and thus soon a minority overall, but the whole country is becoming increasingly atheistic.
Or perhaps you’d just like to get an entry-level job without going 100k into debt and having your entire paycheck cleaned out by health insurance and rent, in which case you and Scott are on the same page.
So what, exactly, have Republicans been “conserving” all this time? Tax cuts for the wealthy? Hell, they didn’t even succeed at building a democracy in Iraq, and they spent trillions of dollars on it! And that’s our money, not theirs! They killed a bunch of people in the process, too.
Looking back, the two biggest Republican victories (that I can see) in my life time have been “getting tough on crime” and overseeing the Fall of the Soviet Union. That one was basically a coincidence, rather than the results of any specific Reagan/Bush I policies, but they do generally get credit for the Tough on Crime business. Note that this is all stuff that happened in the 80s and early 90s; for the past 20 years
And come this election (2016,) who were they running? JEB BUSH. Yes, little brother of the last Bush. You might as well make his campaign slogan “Just like last time, but with more Mexicans!”
Disclaimer: I understand wanting the Mexican vote. I understand wanting to appeal to Hispanics. They live here, they’re a huge voting block, (most of them are great people,) and I hear they’re not really down with the whole SJW agenda thingie.
But do you know the problem with Bush II?
It was pouring our money into a black hole in Iraq, inflating housing prices, and then crashing the economy. It was the general progression of every single thing outlined above that has made life harder for everyday Americans.
Maybe I’m missing some finer details here, but “not enough Mexicans” was not even remotely on the list of complaints.
The folk running the Republican Party had their heads so far up their asses they thought they could just play demographic games (“It works for the Democrats!”) without offering a plan to actually CONSERVE anything.
Okay, I am pissed that these incompetents have any role in our politics.
I’ve noticed that people tend to be liberal when they’re young and become more conservative as they age, essentially locking in the liberalism of their college years but then erecting barriers against the liberalism of college students a decade younger than themselves. While this is natural and probably sensible in many ways, it leads to certain inconsistencies, like people who champion “women’s lib” but criticize “feminism.” Um. So many of the older conservatives I know basically just want to return to sometime in the late 70s/early 80s–you know, the cusp of the AIDs epidemic, the crack wars, rising crime turning America’s cities into burnt-out shells, etc. Great times!
Some people try to correct for this by invoking their grandarents’ or great-grandparents’ time–as though anyone were actually eager to re-live WW2 and the Great Depression. I don’t know about you, but I hear those times were pretty awful. And if we go back further than that, we start hitting things like “Massive epidemics kill millions of people.”
Simply trying to rewind the clock to some earlier year doesn’t solve today’s problems, but I understand the urge to conserve the things you value and love about your own society, childhood, culture, etc.–and the Neocons/Mainstream Republicans have failed miserably at that.
Trump’s message–and the “alt-right,” broadly–has focused on Law and Order; safety (from Terrorism;) jobs (“it’s the economy, stupid;) Cost Disease (“repeal two regulations for every new one” and “repeal Obamacare;”) and the general preservation of Americans as a people/culture (by limiting immigration, especially from groups that didn’t contribute to America’s founding stock.)
Meanwhile, mainstream Republicans are still kicking and screaming that what the country really needs is more Bush II policies.
If “evolution” is a word that comes up a lot in the late 1800s (even before Darwin,) “degenerate” is the word of the 1930s and 40s.
In Kabloona, (1941) an ethnography of the Eskimo (Inuit) of northern Canada, de Poncins speaks highly of the “pure” Eskimo, whose ancestral way of life remains unsullied by contact with European culture, and negatively of the “degenerate Eskimo,” caught in the web of international trade, his lifestyle inexorably changed by proximity and contact with the West.
The Northwest Coast Indians felt the ill effects of too much contact with British, Russian, and American traders. The rum of the trading schooners was one of several factors contributing to the degeneracy of those not actually exterminated.
In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, (1939) Dr. Price argues that modern foods are low in nutrient value and inferior to many native, ancestral diets, and that the spread of this “white man’s food” caused an epidemic of disease, tooth decay, and skeletal mal-formation, which he documents extensively. Dr. Price refers to the change in appearance from one generation to the next, coinciding with the introduction of modern foods, as “interrupted heredity.” The parents represent “pure racial type,” with strong teeth and bones, while the children, bow-legged and sick, suffer physical degeneration.
(This kind of language that Dr. Price uses sometimes confuses us moderns, because we flinch reflexively at phrases like “racial type” when in fact his argument is the inverse of the racist arguments of his day.)
Now, there is something twee about anthropologists (and historians) who long for the preservation of other peoples’ cultures when the people within those cultures seem to prefer modernity. Igloos and teepees may seem fun and exotic to those of us who don’t live in them, but the people who do might genuinely prefer a house with central heat and a toilet. Obviously the whole anthropologist schtick involves people who really like studying cultures that are distinct from their own, and if the people in those cultures adopt Western lifestyles, then there just isn’t much to study anymore.
(Imagine if we found out tomorrow that all of what we thought were variations in human DNA turned out to be contamination errors due to local pollen, and vast swathes of this blog became moot.)
It is easy to write off such notions as just feel-good sentimentalizing by outsiders, but these are at least outsiders with more first hand knowledge of these cultures than I have, so I think we should at least consider their ideas.
The degeneracy described as a result of contact with the West is not just physical or cultural, but also moral. A culture, fully-fledged, is one of humanity’s greatest technologies, a tool for the total transmission of a group’s knowledge, morals, and behaviors. Your ancestors, facing much the same environment as yourself, and armed with similar tools, struggled to obtain food, marry, raise children, and survive just as you do. The ones who succeeded passed down the lessons of their success, and these lessons became woven into the tapestry of culture you were raised in, saving you much of the trial-and error effort of reproducing your ancestors’ struggles.
Some people claim to believe that all cultures are equally valuable and important. I don’t. I think cultures that practice things like cannibalism, animal sacrifice, and child rape are bad and I don’t cry for their disappearance. But virtually every culture has at least some good features, or else it wouldn’t have come about in the first place.
Cultural lessons stem from the practical–“Ice the runners of your sled to make it run more smoothly”–to the moral–“Share your belongings in common with the tribe”–to the inscrutable–“don’t eat the totem animal.” (Some of these beliefs may be more important than others.) Throughout all of recorded human history, most of us have passed on bodies of moral teachings under the name of “religion,” whether we believe in the literal truth of mythic stories or not.
Rapid cultural change–not the gentle sort that percolates slowly across generations, but massive variety precipitated by an industrial revolution or the sudden introduction of a few thousand years’ worth of technological advancement to a long-isolated people–outstrips a society’s ability to provide meaningful moral or practical guidance. Simply put: people don’t know what to do.
Take alcohol. People have probably been producing fermented beverages for at least 10,000 years, or for about as long as we’ve been trying to store pots of grain and fruit. The French have wine, Mongolians have fermented horse milk, the Vikings fermented honey and the Founding Fathers drank a lot of apple cider.
Alcohol has beneficial effects–few pathogens survive the fermentation process–and obviously harmful effects. Societies that traditionally produced large quantities of alcohol have evolved social norms and institutions to help people enjoy the beneficial effects and avoid the bad ones. France, for example, which in 2014 produce 4.5 billion liters of wine and consumed 2.8 billion liters of the same, is not a nation of violent, wife-beating, car-crashing drunkards. French social norms emphasize moderate wine consumption accompanied by food, friends, and family.
By contrast, in societies where alcohol was suddenly introduced via contact with whites, people don’t have these norms, and the results–like rampant alcoholism on Native American reservations–have been disastrous. These societies can–and likely will–learn to handle alcohol, but it takes time.
Our own society is undergoing its own series of rapid changes–industrialization, urbanization, post-industrialization, the rise of the internet, etc. Andean cultures have been cultivating coca leaves for at least 3,000 years, apparently without much trouble, while the introduction of crack/cocaine to the US has been rather like dropping bombs on all of our major cities.
The invention of fairly reliable contraception and the counter-culture of the ’60s and ’70s led to the spread of “free love,” which in turn triggered skyrocketing gonorrhea rates. Luckily gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics (at least until it becomes antibiotic resistant,) but it’s still a nasty disease–one internet acquaintance of mine caught gonorrhea, took antibiotics and thought he was in the clear, but then doctors discovered that the inside of his penis was full of scar tissue that was dangerously closing off his bladder. They had basically cut him a new urethra once they were done removing all of the scar tissue, and he spent the next few months in constant, horrible pain, even while on medication.
And to add insult to injury, everyone in his social circle just thought he was bitter, jealous, and trying to make his ex-girlfriend look bad when he tried to warn them that they shouldn’t sleep with her because she gave him gonorrhea.
Degeneracy isn’t just a sickness of the body; it’s a falling apart of all of the morals and customs that hold society together and give people meaning and direction in their lives. You don’t have to waste years trying to “find yourself” when you already have a purpose, but when you have no purpose but to feed yourself, it’s easy to become lost.
I should note that Dr. Price didn’t just examine the teeth of Eskimo and Aborigines, but also of Scots, Swiss, and Americans. His conclusion–nutritional degeneracy due to contact with modern foods–was the same regardless of culture. (Note: nutrition and food production have changed since 1939.) Or as Scott Alexander recently put it:
I am pretty sure there was, at one point, such a thing as western civilization. I think it involved things like dancing around maypoles and copying Latin manuscripts. At some point Thor might have been involved. That civilization is dead. It summoned an alien entity from beyond the void which devoured its summoner and is proceeding to eat the rest of the world.
Well, that sounds a fair bit more dire than Dr. Price’s assessment. Let’s assume Scott is being poetic and perhaps exaggerating for effect. Still: massive cultural changes can sweep the normative rug out from beneath your feet and leave you injured and confused. It will take time–perhaps centuries–for society to fully adjust to the technological changes of the past hundred years. Right now, everyone is still muddling through, trying to figure out what will kill us and what will save us.
Don’t say positive things about the ingroup that make the outgroups look bad by comparison
“Conservatives”–mostly white males–are the “ingroup”
(I am aware that “outgroup” and “ingroup” are not necessarily the best words here, because liberals use a funny definition of “ingroup” that is more “ingroup to America” than “ingroup to themselves.” We could also phrase this as “dominant majority” vs. “less-powerful minority,” or just “cis-het WASP males,” but there are issues with this phrasing, as well.)
I’m not sure what the rules of Conservative Club are, as it is much harder to inspire an angry conservative Twitter mob than a liberal one. Likewise, liberals (or at least Democrats) are the folk who’ve been violently attacking people at political rallies, not conservatives:
So the best I’ve come up with so far is that outgroups don’t get to criticize the ingroup, as exemplified in the re-branding of “french fries” as “freedom fries” following French criticism of the US plan to bomb Iraq. In general, conservatives believe that it is acceptable to say negative things about others so long as they are true, and it often doesn’t occur to them that others might think elsewise. (This leads to the perception that conservatives are rude.)
(Hrm. I think in general, conservatives respond more strongly to [perceived] physical threats, eg, Bush launching the War on Terror following the 9-11 attack vs. Bill Clinton not bombing anything after the first Al Qaeda bombing of the WTC, or the recent hoopla over Target letting trans people use the bathroom they self-identify with.)
The liberal demand that you never, ever say anything bad about the outgroups explains some otherwise inexplicable results, like Scott Alexander–an LGBT friendly, polyamorous, asexual, atheist Jew who basically agrees with basic SJW theses that blacks and women are oppressed in various ways–getting called “right wing” just because he is willing to say that sometimes SJWs are really mean to people who probably don’t deserve it and critically examine the data on black crime rates. Since “SJW mobs are sometimes mean” and “blacks commit disproportionate quantities of crime” are both statements that reflect negatively on these groups, they are forbidden under #1.
See also the liberals’ response that Donald Trump is “racist” for saying negative things about illegal aliens, like that they have broken the law. To say anything negative about outgroups is “victim blaming.”
This also explains why attempting to be a “moderate” doesn’t work with liberals–if you say something like, “I think both sides have their good and bad points,” then you have again violated rule #1. Conservatives, however, tend to be okay with such statements.
Conservatives tend to disagree with the liberal belief that there exists an “outgroup”–they believe that whites and blacks, men and women, etc., are basically treated equally in modern America. Some of them think that liberals are unfair to conservatives, eg, people who sue bakers for declining to bake gay marriage cakes.
Scotts argument against SJWs is simply that they are not nice to other marginalized groups, like autistic shut-ins or lower-class whites. (Actually, I don’t remember if Scott has specifically argued that SJWs are against low-class whites, but the argument has been made rather abundantly in various places.) This argument works if one is truly committed to helping all outgroups, but fails if the outgroup is specifically defined as “not whites/men” (see rule #3.)
Rule #2 is a more recent innovation, but follows obviously from #1. It explains, for example, why liberals have become reluctant to say anything positive about whites, especially historical ones, unless they can simultaneously also say something positive about women and/or minorities.
For example, any book of notable scientists/inventors/innovators must now include Ada Lovelace, who single-handedly built the first iMac; Jane Goodall, who discovered gorillas; and Amelia Earheart, airplane-crashing pioneer; but you are unlikely to find the names of Niels Bohr, the nobel prize winning father of quantum physics who helped 7,000 people escape from the Nazis and helped build the first atomic bombs; Ignaz Semmelweis, who saved the lives of millions of women by discovering that doctors were infecting by examining them with dirty hands after dissecting corpses; or even Jonas Salk, the guy who cured polio.
On a recent family trip, Suzanne Sherman discovered that slavery, rather than historical contributions, has become the dominant tour-guide narrative at landmarks like Monticello, Montpelier, and Colonial Williamsburg:
While waiting outside of the Peyton Randolph House, we were informed that the tour would cover the home itself, its rooms, architecture, and a brief description of the family who lived there. After that, the tour would concentrate on the many slaves who served the Randolph family, what life was like for them, and the hardships they were forced to endure.
When I inquired if the tour guide would inform us of the philosophical and numerous political contributions the Randolph family made in Colonial Virginia and in the founding of the American republic, the guide shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, indicating he would not. One of the other guides, a man portraying a slave, admonished me, “We’re not gonna sugarcoat anything.”
Peyton Randolph … presided over the first Continental Congress, was a leading figure opposing the Stamp Act and was the first American to be called “Father of his Country.” …
Edmund Randolph … became the aide-de-camp for General Washington, served in the Continental Congress, and was the Governor of Virginia during the Philadelphia Convention. He was one of the drafters of the Virginia Plan, served as attorney general under President Washington, and was secretary of state after Jefferson resigned. I find it incredible that this family was not worthy of discussion.
In all of the paintings Elihu Yale is wearing and surrounded by sumptuous fabrics. … In the second and third paintings we see an unidentified attendant. Much like the wearing of exquisite clothes suggested, placing a servant in a portrait was an articulation of standing and wealth. But when we look more carefully at these two paintings we notice that in addition to the fine clothes the servant and page are wearing they also happen to have metal collars and clasps around their necks. What we are seeing in each painting, then, isn’t a servant or a page, but a slave.
We are fairly certain that Elihu Yale did not own any slaves himself, but there’s no doubting the fact that he participated in the slave trade, profiting from the sale of humans just as he profited from the sale of so many actual objects that were part of the East India trade empire. … In fact, when we look at the paintings it is safe to assume that Elihu Yale was a willing participant in that economy. Since he could have selected anything to represent him in these paintings we can conclude that he chose to be depicted with enslaved people because he believed this narrative would best signify his wealth, power, and worldliness. …
Good morning and welcome, Class of 2019, family members, and colleagues sharing the stage with me. …
About one in twelve of you has been assigned to Calhoun College, named, when the college system was instituted in the 1930s, for John C. Calhoun—a graduate of the Yale College Class of 1804 who achieved extremely high prominence in the early nineteenth century as a notable political theorist, a vice president to two different US presidents, a secretary of war and of state, and a congressman and senator representing South Carolina. …
Calhoun mounted the most powerful and influential defense of his day for slavery.
Yale has no heroes to be proud of or to inspire its students to emulate, only bad people whose portraits must be hidden away and whose names must be publicly excoriated.
The demand that you never say anything bad about the outgoup leads to some odd responses, especially when two outgroups are in conflict. “Muslims” and “gay people” are both outgroups, and Muslims tend not to approve of gay marriage (by a tremendous margin,) but to say so is considered saying something negative about Muslims (even though Muslims themselves probably don’t think so.)
In response to the recent murder of 49 gay people by a Muslim, a liberal friend brought up Christians who kill people or commit terrorism (eg, the IRA,) and stated that we can’t judge an entire religion based on the actions of a few. The idea that, as a practical matter, these two groups might not get along very well simply isn’t considered.
The push to not say negative things about the outgroup probably increases in direct response to outgroup members doing something worth condemning, which may explain why both ends of the American political spectrum reported more favorable views toward Muslims after 9-11 than before it:
Since we happen to live in a democracy, if your first priority is gay rights, then you should logically be opposed to the immigration of future voters who are strongly opposed to gay rights. (Fred Phelps, on the other hand, ought to be thrilled.) But the LGBT coalition has hardly cast its lot in with Trump’s, eg, Donald Trump’s post-Olando appeal to LGBT voters roundly rejected:
Donald Trump’s appeal for support from LBGT voters after the Orlando terrorist attack fell flat with gay rights activists, who said his vows to protect them from homophobic Islamic terrorists were just more of the divisive and bigoted rhetoric they have come to expect from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. …
Mr. Brown and other gay rights activists said all minority groups have to stick together in opposition to Mr. Trump.
Michael Farmer, deputy development director of the LBGT advocacy group Equality Florida, said gay voters can’t trust Mr. Trump.
“If you’re somebody who holds bigoted views about one minority, who’s to say that you won’t hold them about another minority?” he said. “Folks who deal with these issues, people in minority communities, have got to stand together. Muslims, gay people, African-Americans have got to stand against the disgusting views that Donald Trump holds.”
As a practical matter, Trump might think gays are AIDS-infected perverts, but I highly doubt he plans on rounding them up ISIS-style and executing them. At most, he might allow bakeries to turn down gay cake orders, a pretty minor issue in the grand scheme of things.
Scott Alexander (of Slate Star Codex) recently posted an entertaining review of David Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, basically the longer version of Woodard’s American Nations, which ended, somewhat amusingly, with Scott realizing that maybe creating a democracy with a bunch of people whose political ideas you find morally repugnant isn’t a good idea.
A few notes:
1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Puritans names like “Maybe” or “Notwithstanding” weren’t so much random words from the Bible as first words from favorite verses or parts of verses that had been assigned so that the names of the children together formed the complete line (see the Quakers for this sort of name.)
2. The lack of farmers among early Puritan stock might explain why they nearly all starved to death the first couple of years.
3. When people talk about the Cavaliers who settled the Deep South, they all seem to note that of course the underclass of society was not Cavaliers, but then kind of gloss over where the British underclass came from. Most of them, I suspect, were Borderers or their near-equivalents from other parts of the isle, such as thieves and the urban underclass.
I think people tend to imagine these groups (Puritans, Quakers, Borderers, and Cavaliers,) as supposed to be regionally distinct, but most of the time I think we are looking at layers which overlap multiple regions in varying thicknesses. The Borderers, for example, spread across the Deep South, Florida, Texas, the Mountain West, California, Quakerdom, and probably even New England (though the harsh New England climate was probably not as kind to them.) But the trajectory of the Deep South was shaped more by its Cavalier overclass with its African slaves (thus inspiring the Civil War) than by its Borderer underclass. Appalachia, by contrast, was not suited to plantations, and so there the Cavaliers never settled in great quantities and the Borderers are thus a much larger % of the overall society.
So when people ask why Appalachia tends to vote in line with the Deep South, despite these supposedly being two separate groups, I think they are just missing that the majority of whites in the Deep South and Appalachia come from the same or very similar groups of people. The Cavalier overclass was never more than a small % of the Deep South’s population, and obviously blacks vote Democrat.
Also, the Civil War seems to have left a long-term impact on people’s loyalties, where people who strike me as “pretty conservative” but hail from Massachusetts still vote Democrat because they perceive Republicans as the party of those Confederate-flag-waving bigots down in the South.
Yay tribalism leads to rational, optimal political outcomes!
4. Scott does not note that the reason the white Cavalier underclass became “sluggish and indolent” was massive rates of hookworm infection. IIRC, around 1910, de-worming campaigns found that about 25% of Southern children were already infected; who knows what the % was among adults.
Hookworms are intestinal parasites that came over from Africa (with the slaves) and are spread by stepping barefoot into human feces crawling with parasite larvae.
Life before flush toilets was thoroughly disgusting.
Anyway, bad enough that the poor slaves had parasites, but the whites hadn’t even had thousands of years to adapt them, leaving them especially susceptible. The parasites cause anemia, which causes people to act “sluggish and indolent.”
Things got better when they introduced “shoes” to the South.
5. I suspect the disappearance of the Quakers happened not because they “tolerated themselves out of existence” (or not just because) but because they had fewer children than everyone else around them. Plenty of immigrants have arrived, after all, in virtually all parts of the US, but Quakers today are rarer than hen’s teeth. Compare the 16% Quaker female non-marriage rate to the near 100% Puritan marriage rate. The Quakers also spawned the Shakers, who abstained from marriage (and having children) all together.
Of course, this may represent a failure to reproduce their religion rather than their genetics–Quakers resemble “normal people” closely enough that their children may have simply felt that it was unnecessary to attach a religious label to it.
6. Quakers may represent the “normal” position in American politics today in part because they were in the middle of the country, both physically and ideologically. People might not want a country dominated by some group from the extreme end of the geography, but perhaps we can be comfortable with the folks from right in the middle.
7. “It occurs to me that William Penn might be literally the single most successful person in history.”
I raise you a Jesus, Mohammad, Genghis Khan, Karl Marx, and Gautama Buddha.
8. While it is true that Southern Baptist denomination absolutely dominates the entire country south of the Mason-Dixon, it is slightly less popular in Appalachia than in the Deep South. I think the interesting thing about Borderer religion is the popularity of Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations, which are rarer in the rest of the country.
9. Children physically attacking the school teacher or otherwise preventing the school from operating did not just happen in Borderer regions; it is a major theme in the early chapters of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, set in upstate New York. And as reader Psmith noted back on my review of Lenski’s Strawberry girl:
Build a bonfire out of schoolbooks,
Put the teacher on the top,
Put the prefects in the middle
And we’ll burn the bloody lot.
To the tune of “Deck The Halls”:
Deck the halls with gasoline
fa la la la la la la la la
Light a match and watch it gleam
fa la la la la la la la la
Watch the school burn down to ashes
Fa la la la la la la la la …
To the tune of “On Top Of Old Smokey”:
On top of old smokey
All covered in blood
I shot my poor teacher
with a .44 slug
Unlike Scott, I do remember hearing these sung by my classmates.
I did not enjoy being forced to attend school with those sorts of boys.
10. I have a lot of abstract appreciation for Borderer ideals of liberty, which are pretty much my symbolic idea of “what it means to be an American.” I also have a lot of sympathy for people who just want to go off in the woods and be left alone and not deal with interfering busy-bodies. I don’t now how well I’d actually get along in their society, though.
11. Scott remarks on the close parallels between the traits he’d already observed and attributed to the “Red Tribe” and “Blue Tribe;” and the traits Fischer ascribes to the original settlers of these regions as a point potentially in Fischer’s favor; I propose, however, a caution. Fischer himself is undoubtedly familiar with modern America and the relevant Republican/Democrat cultural divide. Fischer may have–consciously or unconsciously–sought out evidence and presented it to make the colonists resemble their descendants.
12. One of the… interesting aspects of the generalized orthosphere, including much of NRx, is that among American examples, Moldbuggian neocameralism most closely resembles (IMO) the “dystopian” Puritan bargain. The Puritan colonies were corporations owned by shareholders in which temporal and spiritual power were unified, only people who fit in culturally and were sufficiently intelligent were allowed in, and folks who wanted to leave were allowed to do so–the breaking off of Rhode Island as its own colony is a strong precursor for the concepts of patchwork and exit.
Of course, the Puritans still voted, as shareholders must–as long as your king is beholden to shareholders, they will vote. (And in any community where the population density is low enough that each man can be sovereign of his own individual domain, collective decisions are liable to entail, by necessity, a certain amount of consensus.
All of this is grafted onto a group of people who seem to favor the ideals of the Cavalier planter class, while claiming that the Puritans–wielding Quaker ideas–destroyed the moral basis of the formerly functional Borderer society. (Similar arguments are made that liberals have destroyed the moral basis of black society.)
This is not the first time I’ve noticed something like this–the dominant religion of the Deep South (the Cavalier zone,) Southern Baptism, does not resemble the beliefs put forth by deists like Thomas Jefferson, but good ol’ fashioned Puritanism. How exactly the Puritans converted to Unitarian Universalism and the Cavaliers and Borderers converted to Puritanism (or if this is just an artifact of Southern religion changing more slowly than Northern religion and so retaining more of its original character, which was closer to Puritanism in the 1600s than Puritanism is to its own modern descendants, much as Icelandic has morphed more slowly than other Scandinavian languages, allowing speakers of modern Icelandic to read archaic Norse texts that are unintelligible to speakers of other modern Scandinavian languages.
I also feel compelled to note that, while people have been claiming that the chief pig, Leonard, has a “Middle Eastern” style beard, Middle Easterners typically have curly haired beards, whereas Leonard clearly has straight fur. Also, Leonard has only managed a chin-beard, whereas Middle Easterners tend to have much fuller beards.
The comments on Slate Star Codex’s recent post, “Why Were Early Psychedelicists so Weird?” contain a fair number of stories along the lines of “I took LSD/shrooms/other illegal drugs and had interesting, positive effects,” and a few stories along the lines of “I knew a guy who tried LSD and it fried his brain and turned him into a drooling idiot.”
Normally, I think it best to rate “I did X”-style testimony more highly than “I knew a guy who did X.” In this case, however, I want to urge caution, because there is an obvious selection bias in the kinds of stories you are going to hear: drooling idiots are bad at writing.
The people whose brains got fried on illegal drugs do not have the ability to get on the internet and write coherent, entertaining posts on the subject, and they certainly do not have the IQ points left to be part of the regular readership/commentariat on Scott’s blog. In fact, they aren’t writing a whole lot of anything. Which means that if you are reading about LSD-experiences in the comments section of Scot’s blog, you are only going to read stories from people who are still mentally with it, or people warning that a bad thing happened to a guy they knew.
I have no idea what % of people who try LSD end up okay, better, or worse afterwards, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that 50% are fine-to-better and 50% end up in droolsville. The 50% who are fine go post on Scott’s blog, and the 50% who are not fine never show up because they can’t type anymore, except as cautionary tales from the few guys who know the details about a former friend’s illegal activities.
Maybe LSD researchers can tell you what percentage of people fry their brains on it, shrooms, or other psychedelics. But you certainly can’t make any good estimation based on a biased sample like this–so don’t.
And yes, I know, everyone with positive stories would probably say that the key is to be very careful about how much you use, purity, and allowing enough time between uses. But the people who fried their brains probably thought that, too.
I am not saying that these drugs cannot possibly have any positive medical uses. I am saying that you should avoid using biased datasets when formulating any theories on the matter.
Warning: I am not entirely satisfied with this post.
I had to spend today with dumbs.
At one point, someone claimed ISIS consists of militant atheists.
By the end I was about ready to chew my arm off to escape.
You know, if The Big Bang Theory were at all realistic, one of the rules in Sheldon’s roommate agreement would be that Penny isn’t allowed in his apartment. He wouldn’t be able to stand her.
“Tribe” can be a difficult concept to articulate, especially if you don’t live in an explicitly tribal society. To be an outlier (in any way) is a recipe for isolation–there’s simply no one else around like yourself. You make do, if you can. But when you finally find someone–or a whole group of someones–like yourself, it’s a wonderful moment.
These days, spending most of my time in the company of others like myself leads to a certain complacency, but it takes only a few hours in the presence of outsiders to remind me of just how awful it is to be in a place where no one thinks like you do.
I’m not one for “who is a true X?” fights. I’m not going to debate who is and isn’t a poser. But I reserve the right to have personal opinions about whether or not we get along and how people affect group dynamics.
I think it is emotionally healthy–perhaps even necessary–to have a group of people you fit in with and whose company you enjoy.
To have such a group requires at least some awareness of the existence of your group and a willingness to define some people as inside of it and some as outside of it. This does not require hating outsiders–if anything, most people seem capable of identifying with some group or another (a local sports team, their state, people who use ham radios, etc.,) without particularly hating everyone outside of it. (For that matter, most people are quite innocently self-concerned–too busy with their own lives to really take much notice of things outside of it–and so do not really notice or know much about people outside of their own groups.)
But nerds have a habit, in my experience, of being explicitly anti-tribal. I think this is a side effect of growing up on the outside of everyone else’s tribes. When everyone else has a group of friends and you don’t, it’s pretty easy to decide that being exclusionary is wrong and immoral.
Realistically speaking, of course, there aren’t a lot of people trying to sneak into nerd spaces for inappropriate reasons–how many people are physics posers? (I am pretty sure I have been snuck to an exclusive physics lecture by someone trying to date me. Does that count as inappropriate?) But even so, group membership is not worthless. When my husband and I met and he asked me out, I was willing to give him a chance because I was vaguely familiar with him as a member of my social group. People in my group, at least, were somewhat known quantities–if he were a bad person, I likely would have heard about it or could find out quickly from a mutual acquaintance.
(A note for the unwary: sometimes your mutual acquaintances value different things in a partner than you do; sometimes people are outright liars. Tread cautiously when dealing with the opinions of others.)
Even now, I find that, “Do you look like people I have previously gotten along with?” is a pretty good metric for picking people to talk to.
Serious question, folks: Have you ever observed a correlation between “I find this person attractive” and “I enjoy talking to this person”? Not in an “I find it unpleasant to talk to ugly people because they hurt my eyes,” nor in an “I am going to be extra sympathetic to things you say because I want to have sex with you,” kind of way. More in a “Wow, how did I get so lucky that I am actually attracted to the small subset of people I can stand talking to?” My own taste in men hasn’t changed since 4th grade, which was really well before I had any idea what sorts of personality traits or political opinions or lifestyles I’d be interested in as a grown-up, and yet it has consistently served me well.
Anyway, back to politics. A few decades ago, it seems like there was more of a place for nerds in mainstream politics. Republicans liked funding projects that employ nerds, like atomic bombs, and Democrats claimed to believe in things like evolution. Even then, of course, there was a third political position that attracted a fair number of nerds: Libertarianism aka Objectivism. Heck, even the name sounds appropriate for people who are inclined toward a scientific view of the world.
Since then, both mainstream sides have turned against us. Republicans have been anti-science since at least Bush II–who ran on an explicitly anti-smart people campaign–and have been trying to prevent people from learning about the basic theories underlying modern science since approximately forever. This drove a lot of us into the “liberal” or “Libertarian” camps back in the ’90s and ’00s. Since then, though, liberalism underwent a shift, from extolling Libertarian-like meta-politics of respecting peoples’ individual rights on matters like free speech, entertainment, or religion, to the collectivist advocacy of particular group interests–groups that are, to be explicit, not nerds.
Demographically speaking, most nerds are English, German, Jewish, and East Asian men. (Most of them are also heterosexual, cisgendered, etc. etc.) Of course nerds come from all sorts of backgrounds–black, Russian, maybe even borderlands Scot. We are just talking overall numbers. But the SJW orthodoxy has been hammering, pretty explicitly, against the main nerd demographics.
To give an example: most of the nerdy and/or high IQ people I know were, circa 2000, sympathetic to feminist arguments. For that matter, when it comes to violence against women, nerds are probably among the groups least likely to commit any. Per capita, blacks, Hispanics, and lower-class whites commit much more violence. And yet, as a practical matter, people like Scott Alexander–who’s asexual, non-violent, and simply asked for advice on how to find love–or Scott Aaronsen, who confessed to feeling so terrified of the possibility of accidentally harassing someone that he became suicidal–are more likely to get attacked by feminists than folks who actually actually rapedover a thousand children.
As a female nerd, I confess I find this a double insult: first you attack my people for something they aren’t guilty of, and then you refuse to defend women against the people actually raping them.
So nerds have split. Some of the old Libertarians have decided that, essentially, we can’t use a meta-ethic of treating everyone equally if some people are starting from unequal positions–that everyone has to be brought to equal positions first, and then treated equally. Others–especially those now styling themselves “Rationalists,” have stuck with the original Libertarian values but attempted to improve their ability to to deal with complex, real-world situations. And a third group–Neoreactionaries–has turned explicitly away from equality.
“Mutational load” is the idea that organisms contain some number of deleterious mutations. Some mutations will kill you outright, like the one for Tay-Sachs disease; some mutations greatly reduce your fitness but aren’t immediately lethal, like the inability to sweat; and some mutations are potentially problematic but mostly just kind of annoying, like colorblindness.
Random mutations happen all the time as a result of genetic transcription. The obviously bad ones tend to get weeded out of the population pretty quickly, but the ones with only a mild effect on fitness can stick around for a pretty long time. Under harshly Malthusian conditions where organisms compete for limited resources and danger and disease lurk at every turn, deleterious mutations will tend to get weeded out pretty quickly, but increase the food and decrease the danger/diseases, and a far larger % of your population will reproduce, including people who would previously have died.
One of the areas where mutational load seems to play a significant role is in IQ. I commented on a study n the subject back in “Is Genius Fragile?” While obviously a great variety of things go into determining one’s IQ, like whether you were in a good mood when you took the test and if your parents dropped you on your head as an infant, this particular study found that the major difference between extremely-high-IQ kids and normal-to-low-IQ people was that the normal-to-low people had a higher frequency of rare, slightly deleterious mutations. The lower the IQ, the more of these mutations.
Each mutation obviously has only a small effect–you could have several and still come out pretty smart. But to be one of the super smart kids, you had to basically be one of the lucky folks who escaped almost all of them.
IQ is interesting in another way: it is more variable in men than women. People make a big deal out of the greater preponderance of men than women at the very high end of the IQ distribution (especially math ability;) this is, we are frequently told, due to the pernicious evil effects of the patriarchy’s black-magic mind-control rays convincing women that they are bad at math. Strangely, however, we are never told that the opposite effect–the fact that the ranks of the intellectually retarded are also disproportionately male–is also due to the magical effects of the patriarchy.
BTW, if you think it is a problem that the evil patriarchy is preventing girls from getting math PhDs, but have no problem with boys being over-represented among the retarded, you are a horrible person.
You see, because random unpleasant shit happens, like snake bites and random mutations, nature has built us with a fair amount of redundancy. If something happens to one of your eyes, you’ve still got the other. If something happens to one of your hands, you’ve got an extra. Etc. This is true on the genetic level, too, which is why you can survive even with small, fitness-reducing mutations.
But men have slightly less genetic redundancy than women, because they have an X and Y chromosome instead of two Xes. If a woman has a wonky mutation on one of her Xs, the other X may have a mutation that makes up for it. If a man has a wonky mutation on his X, his Y chromosome may have nothing to counteract it (and likewise, if there’s a wonky one on his Y, his X may have nothing to counteract it.)
Some mutations are good, some are bad, and some are neutral. Height is fairly neutral. The average man is taller than the average woman, but the spread from tallest men to shortest men is bigger than the spread from tallest women to shortest women. All women tend to cluster closer to the female average than men; there are both more “short men” and “tall men” than “short women” and “tall women.”
Likewise with IQ; there are both more male geniuses and retarded than female geniuses and retarded, most likely as a result of men having lower genetic redundancy to counteract the effects of mutational load.
1. Place your right hand firmly on the plate of a photocopier or scanner with fingers straight. Close cover of place a sheet of paper over your hand to prevent glare from overhead lights. Ensure that the bottom crease and finger tip can be clearly seen in the photocopy.
2. Use a ruler or calipers to measure the distance from the middle of the bottom crease to the tip of the finger to the nearest hundredth of a centimeter.
3. Once you have the measures for both your ring and index finger, then divide the length of your index finger by the length of your ring finger. The result is 2D:4D (2nd digit divided by 4th digit).
If possible, please give three digits – for example, 0.915. Some people may have digit ratios slightly greater than 1, which is okay.)
Inspired, the husband and I decided to measure ours, too. Since we didn’t have a photocopier on hand, and were lazy, we just used a common tape measure. We measured both hands and checked each other’s work, but both of our hands came out identical.
I got a ratio of 0.971, he got 0.957.
(Note that the closer the ratio is to 1, the closer your fingers are to being the same length. The further the ratio is from one, the further apart your finger lengths are.)
Scott notes that the average male digit ratio in his survey was 0.972; the average female digit ratio was 0.975.
According to Wikipedia, a study of 136 males and 137 females at the University of Alberta found:
People have taken to calling lower digit ratios (further from one) more “masculine,” and higher digit ratios (closer to one) more “feminine.” Which leads to the question of why all of these Rationalist math-nerds, whose community is definitely majority male and whose field is regarded as a stereotypically “Male” thing, should all have such overwhelmingly girly hands.
My first thought was that math nerds are effeminate. Which they are, for certain definitions of effeminate. But mathy women tend to be kind of masculine, which isn’t what this data shows. My second thought was that femininity/masculinity may be additive rather than subtractive–that is, having an extra unit of “masculinity” doesn’t necessarily mean someone must therefore lack a unit of “femininity” in a directly linear fashion. Some people could be very low in both femininity and masculinity, or high in both.
My third thought was that maybe measuring digit ratios is too complicated by measurement error and bias and random noise due to things like “how do your fingers crease?” and “did you actually use a copy machine?” A LOT of social science research doesn’t replicate at all.
My fourth thought was that a large difference between one’s finger lengths sounds a lot like physical asymmetry–which is caused (among other things) by mutational load.
Symmetry has long been recognized as one of the things people look for in a mate. Asymmetric faces (and bodies) are deemed less attractive than symmetric ones. Symmetry is a sign of good health, good lifetime nutrition, few parasites, and low mutational load. Asymmetry is a sign of things gone wrong.
Men display more of the effects of mutational load due to their Y chromosomes, so we’d expect to see a wider range of male digit ratios than female ones–which is indeed what the Alberta study found. Really dumb men probably have very different digit lengths, while really smart men trend toward even fingers. Women, because of their two X chromosomes, are probably just less likely to have really uneven fingers (just as they are less likely to be really dumb.)
The Slate Star Codex and Less Wrong cohorts, on the other end of the spectrum, are very smart people in whom we would expect to see lower mutational load.
The latest study I read on autism found that sufferers have a higher mutational load than the background population; while such an explanation is less fun than “autistics are secret math geniuses,” it is sensible. At any rate, if so, we should find a correlation between autism and divergent digit ratios, which the SSC/LW survey did. (Why autistics tend to be male should be immediately obvious.)
Likewise, if homosexuality is caused by some kind of genetic or parasitic agent, we would expect it to correlate with digit divergence. According to the Wikipedia, lesbians have more divergent digits than heterosexual women, but the jury is still out on gay men.
Interestingly, Wikipedia reports that the Han Chinese (who score very well on IQ tests,) have very even fingers, and that the Jamaicans (who do not do so well on IQ tests,) have very divergent ratios. (However, like much of this digit ratio research, I regard this as speculative.)
Of course, like height, there my also be an androgenic effect, such that men are supposed to (for whatever reasons) have slightly different digit ratios than women. After all, even the SSC/LW sample had more divergent ratios for the men than the women, even though the whole SSC/LW population probably has about equal mutational loads (having been pre-selected for high IQ, which = low mutational load.)
“If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.” — Confucius
This quote is one of my personal mottoes, but I have added a corollary: “If I am walking with only one man, I still have two teachers, for I may learn to achieve goodness from a man’s good side, and to avoid evil from a man’s bad side.”
At any rate, Edison is a man whose goodness instructs us on how to take brilliant ideas and build the structures necessary for them to benefit humanity. Edison is a man who literally built civilization and deserves credit for both seeing how the structures needed to fit together to work, and for having the skills necessary to actually bring people together and build those structures.
Tesla is a lesson on how society should not manage its creative geniuses, (and I don’t mean the dumb pay dispute with Edison.)
Tesla is an interesting character. He appears to have been one of the world’s exceedingly rare true short sleepers, which appears to be a genetic condition:
“Ying-Hui Fu … studies the genetics and other characteristics of short sleepers at her neurogenetics lab.
“Currently, Fu knows of three types of genetic mutations that are related to the ability to function well on minimal amounts of sleep, which often runs in the family. In a 2009 paper published in the journal Science, she described a mother and a daughter who shared the same genetic mutation of the gene DEC2 that allowed them to thrive on six hours of sleep per night. So far Fu has identified about 50 families of short sleepers.
“This group of short sleepers is unique,” Fu said, describing them as optimistic and energetic, often holding more than one job. …
“Interestingly, these high energy levels typical of short sleepers can sometimes reach behavioral extremes. For instance, a 2001 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research that examined the sleep patterns and personality of 12 short sleepers, researchers found some evidence of subclinical hypomania — a milder form of manic behavior, characterized by euphoria, disinhibition and, in fact, a decreased need for sleep.”
Please note that drinking 10 5-hour-energy drinks in a row is not the same as having a genetic mutation that lets you get by on less sleep. Chances are extremely likely that you, my friend, are already not getting as much sleep as you need for optimum health. Also, since very few short sleepers have actually been studied, what we think we know about them may not be entirely accurate; they may suffer long-term consequences that have not yet been documented, for example. I do wonder if chronic lack of sleep eventually got to Tesla, reducing him to a state of waking-dreaming toward the end of his life, when he began going obviously loopy.
Tesla’s rigidity of personality, behavior, and dress are reminiscent of the compulsive, repetitive, and restrictive behaviors associated with autism/Asperger’s Syndrome (now just another part of “autism” in the DSM,) eg,
“People with Asperger syndrome display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible routines, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or preoccupy themselves with parts of objects.
“Pursuit of specific and narrow areas of interest is one of the most striking features of AS. Individuals with AS may collect volumes of detailed information on a relatively narrow topic such as weather data or star names, without necessarily having a genuine understanding of the broader topic.” (Wikipedia.)
I’ve long thought it a problem that these definitions/descriptions make no effort to distinguish between “Aspies” and genuinely intelligent people, who simply have more ability to memorize facts of any sort and will learn about any subject in more depth than someone of ordinary intelligence. If we want to define high IQ as a mental disorder, then, well, I guess we can, but it seems like a bad idea to me.
Autistic children apparently also have difficulty sleeping, which is why many of them are being prescribed melatonin as a sleep aid (as I discussed back in Melanin, Sexuality, and Aggression.) However, these autistic kids appear to actually need more sleep than they’re getting; they just seem to have trouble turning off their brains and keeping them off long enough for a proper sleep.
Anyway, to get extremely speculative: Much like Fu’s short sleepers, the autistic people I have worked with personally (N=small) seemed like they had brains on overdrive. Imagine that a normal brain is an Amish buggy, going along at a nice, reasonable clip, and their brains are Formula One race cars. Brain speed in this case may have nothing to do with IQ, per say, or may in fact be detrimental to it–autistics are far more likely than the general population to test as mentally retarded–but I favor a theory that having a small quantity of autistic-like traits may be useful for people in fields or occupations that require high IQ, but large quantities of autistic-like traits cause too many negative side effects, resulting in full-blown autism. In Tesla’s case, he got the benefits of the massively high-powered, sped-up brain, with a side effect that he couldn’t turn it off long enough to get more than a few hours of sleep and lacked the normal social instincts that lead people to marry, have children, and generally form stable relationships with other people.
To be fair, this is not evidence that Tesla actually supported the Nazis or their policies.
Back in Is Genius Fragile?, I discussed a recent paper in Molecular Psychology that claimed to have studied 1,400 students with IQs of 170 or above, and found no rare genetic alleles that were more common in them than people of normal or low IQ, but did find rare, deleterious alleles in regular/dumb people.
But are such alleles actually deleterious? Tesla never married and had no children; neither did Isaac Newton. Einstein had three children, but one of them seems to have died in infancy and one was institutionalized for schizophrenia.
In other words, perhaps some of these alleles they’ve noticed aren’t deleterious, but actually helpful in some way. Perhaps, for example, there is an allele that codes for processes that help you turn off your brain at night and transition to certain sleep states. Without that allele, your brain is more “on” all the time, you feel more alert and can think more clearly than others without getting tired, but ultimately there are some bad side effects to not sleeping. Or perhaps the brain’s ability to see patterns is normally regulated by another mechanism that helps you distinguish between real patterns and false matches, which might malfunction in people like John Nash, resulting both in increased pattern-matching ability and in schizophrenia. By the way, I am totallyspeculating and might be completely wrong.
Please note that from the evolutionary POV, traits–like IQ–are not inherently valuable. A trait is adaptive if it leads to the continuation of your DNA into future generations, and is deleterious or maladaptive if it hinders the continuation of your DNA. If high IQ people do not have children, the high IQ is maladaptive and being selected out of the population. (Please note, also, that different environments, both physical and cultural, select for different traits. Had Tesla remained near his family back in Croatia, they might have helped arrange a marriage for him, leading eventually to children and romantic entanglements with someone who wasn’t a pigeon.)
However, even if high-IQ people never reproduced under any circumstances, their existence in a population might still be advantageous to the population as a whole–you probably enjoy having lightbulbs, electricity, cell phones, and other such things, for example. The development of vaccines, industrial agriculture, and modern theories about nutrition and hygiene have vastly expanded the Earth’s human population over the past hundred years, and would have done so even if the people involved had not had any children at all.
This is a somewhat complicated issue that depends on the interaction of a lot of variables, like whether society can consistently produce high-IQ people even if the high-IQ people themselves do not have many children, and whether the innovations of modernity will actually help us survive (the Amish, after all, have more children than your average person with a cell phone.) See: “How–and why–genius is group selected–massive cultural amplification” for some more discussion on the subject.
Regardless, I am operating under the assumption that society benefits from the existence of people like Tesla (and, of course, Edison.)
Anyway, back to Tesla and his job difficulties.
In “The Improperly Excluded,” Micheal Ferguson theorizes that there exists a maximum IQ difference between two people beyond which they cannot effectively communicate, which he places around 20 IQ points. (I think I discussed it here and here.) So a person with an average IQ of 100 can understand and communicate with someone with a 120 IQ, and someone with a 120 can understand a 140, but the 100 and 140 are essentially speaking Greek to each other; the 100 IQ person cannot make heads or tails of the 140’s thoughts, nor distinguish their claims from those of a crazy person or charlatan. If the 100 trusts the 120, the 120 can take advice from the 140 and recommend it to the 100, but beyond that, people of, say, 160 IQ are just too far removed from the average population to even get their ideas effectively communicated. Extremely high IQ people, therefore, may be improperly excluded from positions where they could actually do important work just because average people have no way to understand what they’re saying. Additionally, since extremely high IQ people are very rare, they may have to cope with a world in which almost no one they meet is within their comfortable conversation zone.
Note: see Hollingworth Fan’s comment below for some very interesting quotes on this subject.
Tesla, a guy who could do integer calculus in his head, was undoubtedly brilliant far beyond the common walks of man, and so seems to have faced the constant frustration of being surrounded by idiots like Edison. Upon Edison’s death, Tesla opined in the NY Times about his former boss:
“He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene … His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.”
That idiot Edison, by the way, had six children, none of whom seem to have died in infancy or gone crazy. Three went into science/inventing, two were women, and I don’t know what happened to the fourth boy. Edison was undoubtedly helped in life by living in the same country as his family, but he also seems to have just been a more stable person who successfully managed to balance his work and social life. Edison: better adapted to his environment than Tesla.
Tesla’s genius was undoubtedly under-utilized. Tesla could not manage his own affairs, and so needed, at the very least, the strong structural support of a family that would prevent him from doing stupid things like gambling away his tuition money and dropping out of college, as well as a sound employer or university that would manage the business end of Tesla’s laboratory expenses and design implementation. Immigration to the US left Tesla without the support of his family, and his own stubbornness lead him to quit what would otherwise have been a productive career.
Additionally, Tesla’s ideas may truly have been too far ahead of their time for even other smart people to appreciate and understand. There were few people in the world at his level, and he must have spent much of his life completely isolated from anyone who could understand him. Even an employer willing to finance his schemes might not have been able to understand (and thus implement) some of them.
Isolation, I suspect, leads eventually to madness. Not because (or just because) isolation makes people lonely, which makes them depressed. But because the human animal is not designed to work in isolation.
In the extreme example, we know from observing people in solitary confinement that it breaks their brains and drives them insane.
In everyday life, our brains require regular feedback from others to make sure our ideas and impulses are correct. To give a trivial example, suppose I mention to my husband that a friend of mine did something today that really annoyed me, and he responds that I am misinterpreting things, that he heard from my friend’s husband that morning about some extenuating circumstances that explain her behavior and that I should not be annoyed with her. Likewise, he might come to me with a story about a co-worker who seems to be stealing his ideas, and I could help figure out if the guy really is.
Isolation removes this feedback, leading to more and more incorrect ideas.
“Think of top-down processing as taking noise and organizing it to fit a pattern. Normally, you’ll only fit it to the patterns that are actually there. But if your pattern-matching system is broken, you’ll fit it to patterns that aren’t in the data at all. …
“So hallucinations are when your top-down processing/pattern-matching ability becomes so dysfunctional that it can generate people and objects out of random visual noise. Why it chooses some people and objects over others I don’t know, but it’s hardly surprising – it does the same thing every night in your dreams.
“Many of the same people who have hallucinations also have paranoia. Paranoia seems to me to be overfunctioning of social pattern-matching. … When a paranoiac hears a stray word here, or sees a sideways glance there, they turn it into this vast social edifice of connected plots.”
Tesla’s claims to have been working on a “Death Ray” that turned out to be an old battery, his romantic entanglement with a pigeon, claims that “thieves” had broken into his hotel room in search of his “Death Ray” but not been able to find, and the Mythbusters’ thorough busting of his claims to have built an oscillator that nearly brought down the building and had to be destroyed with a sledgehammer all sound a lot like what Scott’s describing. As a guy who could do calculus in his head, Tesla had an extreme talent for pattern matching–perhaps too extreme. Scott continues:
“So to skip to the point: I think all of this is about strengthening the pattern-matching faculty. You’re exercising it uselessly but impressively, the same way as the body-builder who lifts the same weight a thousand times until their arms are the size of tree trunks. Once the pattern-matching faculty is way way way overactive, it (spuriously) hallucinates a top-down abstract pattern in the whole universe. This is the experience that mystics describe as “everything is connected” or “all is one”, or “everything makes sense” or “everything in the universe is good and there for a purpose”. The discovery of a beautiful all-encompassing pattern in the universe is understandably associated with “seeing God”.”
Recovered schizophrenics I’ve talked to report the exact same thing: both a mystical sense of the union of all things, and joy at the experience (though they also report that schizophrenia can be absolutely terrifying, because sometimes the voices are evil.)
And finally (at least for the quoting):
“I think other methods of inducing weird states of consciousness, like drugs and meditation, probably do the same thing by some roundabout route. Meditation seems like reducing stimuli, which is known to lead to hallucinations in eg sensory deprivation tanks or solitary confinement cells in jail. I think the general principle is that a low level of external stimuli makes your brain adjust its threshold for stimulus detection up until anything including random noise satisfies the threshold.”
Isolation/ lack of stimulus has a direct effect of lowering the brain’s threshold for identifying patterns until random background noise gets interpreted as conversation. (The general correlation between schizophrenia and low IQ could be partially an effect of smarter people being better at avoiding severe isolation, and dumber people being more likely to end up in situations where literally no one has a real conversation with them for years at a time.
Tesla seems to have been isolated in his own way, both by being far more intelligent than the vast majority of people, and so unable to converse properly with them, and also by having none of his family, kin, or fellow countrymen around. He even had to communicate primarily in a language that was hardly his first.
Long term, I suspect such isolation had a negative effect on Tesla’s sanity and ability to wisely conduct his own affairs.
Tesla is a difficult case, because he willingly walked away from what were probably excellent career opportunities, and there’s hardly anything anyone could do about his family being back in Croatia. However, since most people do live in the same country as their families, we can still draw some general conclusions:
Some really smart people may require significant support from society and/or their families/employers in order to properly function and fully realize their potential. Their families should probably step in and help them get married if they can’t do it themselves, at the very least to help keep them happy and stable.
The Wikipedia quotes physicist Y. S. Kim on the subject of P. A. M. Dirac (one of my favorite scientists)’s marriage to Margit Wigner, sister of Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Eugene Wigner:
“It is quite fortunate for the physics community that Manci took good care of our respected Paul A. M. Dirac. Dirac published eleven papers during the period 1939–46…. Dirac was able to maintain his normal research productivity only because Manci was in charge of everything else.”
Alas, the Wikipedia does not give the details of how an autist like Dirac managed to marry Manci.
Really smart people may have some ideas that are astounding brilliant, and also have a lot of ideas that don’t work at all, because that is just the nature of creativity, but the average person probably can’t tell the difference. They need other people like themselves to bounce ideas off of and generally converse with. Their eccentricities are generally harmless, and the community is better off tolerating them.
Above all, try not to abandon them. Humans are not built to be alone.